Sourdough Starter

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Easy

  • Makes

    300 grams

Appears in

Bien Cuit: The Art of Bread

Bien Cuit

By Zachary Golper and Peter Kaminsky

Published 2015

  • About

The next few recipes require the longest fermentation. In the process, they develop deep, deep flavor, a creamy texture, a beautifully textured crumb, and a crackling crust. To make them, first you need to make a sourdough starter, which is a bit of a project. Other books will tell you that you can make a great starter in less time. I would say that with shorter methods you can make a good starter, but not a great one. This formula, which requires at least 24 days to mature, takes long, cold fermentation to new heights, and that difference shows in the bread.

You read it right. I find that it takes 24 days for my sourdough starter (in baker speak, a levain) to be really good. If that sounds daunting, look at it his way: you only have to make a sourdough starter once, and then you only have to feed it every few days, just like you’d water a houseplant. With proper care and feeding, a sourdough “mother” can last forever. If you continue to maintain it properly, by the end of about three months you will notice even more improvement in flavor, texture, and the leavening power. I wanted to recommend letting it develop for a full 90 days, but it seemed cruel to ask you to wait that long. It will be nicely bake-able at 24 days, but a more mature sourdough will give more delicious results.

I call for local organic grapes because they don’t require rinsing, which would wash away the wild yeasts that naturally occur on grape skins. And, of course, the activity of yeast is ultimately what makes a starter.

Ingredients

Day 1

  • 250 grams (8.8 oz) organic grapes (seeded or seedless) preferably locally grown
  • 125 grams (½ c + 3 tbsp) whole rye berries, ground into flour, or 125 grams (1 c + tsp) dark rye flour

Days 3 Through 6

  • 400 grams ( c) dark rye flour
  • 400 grams ( c + 3 tbsp) water at about 60°F (15°C)

Days 7 Through 9

  • 225 grams ( c + tbsp) medium whole wheat flour
  • 225 grams (¾ c + 3 tbsp) water at about 60°F (15°C)

Days 10 Through 20

  • 1,650 grams (11¾ c + 1 tbsp) medium whole wheat flour
  • 1,650 grams ( c + 2 tbsp) water at about 60°F (15°C)

Day 21

  • 150 grams (1 c + 1 tbsp) medium whole wheat flour
  • 100 grams (¼ c + 3 tbsp) water at about 60°F (15°C)

Method

Day 1

  1. Wipe any dirt from the grapes, but don’t immerse them in water. Puree in a blender or food processor. Transfer to a medium storage container, preferably one with high sides, and add the rye. Mix with your fingers, pressing the mixture into the sides, bottom, and corners until all of the flour is wet and fully incorporated. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 48 hours.

Days 3 Through 6

  1. In a clean, high-sided storage container, combine 100 grams (¾ c + tbsp) of the flour and 100 grams (¼ c + 3 tbsp) of the water.

    Add 100 grams (¼ c + tbsp) of the Day 1 starter and discard the rest. Cover and let sit at room temperature.

  2. Repeat the feeding every 24 hours, each time using 100 grams (¼ c + tbsp) of the previous day’s starter, for a total of 4 feedings.

Days 7 Through 9

  1. In a clean, high-sided storage container, combine 75 grams (½ c + tsp) of the flour and 75 grams (¾ c + 3 tbsp) of the water. Add 75 grams (¼ c + ½ tbsp) of the Day 6 starter and discard the rest. Cover and let sit at room temperature.
  2. Repeat the feeding every 24 hours, each time using 75 grams (¼ c + ½ tbsp) of the previous day’s starter, for a total of 3 feedings.

Days 10 Through 20

  1. In a clean, high-sided storage container, combine 75 grams (½ c + tsp) of the flour and 75 grams (¾ c + 3 tbsp) of the water. Add 75 grams (¼ c + ½ tbsp) of the existing starter and discard the rest. Cover and let sit at room temperature.
  2. Repeat the feeding every 12 hours, each time using 75 grams (¼ c + ½ tbsp) of the previous day’s starter, for a total of 22 feedings.

Day 21

  1. In a clean, high-sided storage container, combine the flour and water. Add 50 grams (3 tbsp + 1 tsp) of the existing starter and discard the rest. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 6 hours.
  2. At this point, it’s preferable to refrigerate the starter for 60 hours before using, but it will be fine to use after 12 hours.
  3. Congratulations. You now have a healthy, happy starter!

Maintaining Your Starter

  1. Once every 3 days, remove the starter from the refrigerator for 6 hours. Remove and discard all but 50 grams (3 tbsp + 1 tsp) of the existing starter, then feed the starter using the same proportions as Day 21: 150 grams (1 c + 1 tbsp) of whole wheat flour, 100 grams (¼ c + 3 tbsp) of water, and 50 grams (3 tbsp + 1 tsp) of the existing starter. Cover and let rest for 6 hours, then return to the refrigerator.
  2. If you plan on being away for more than 4 to 9 days, you need to slow the growth of the starter. Remove the starter from the refrigerator and discard all but 100 grams (¼ c + tbsp) of it. Let sit for 6 hours. Then add 750 grams ( c + 2 tbsp) of medium whole wheat flour and 350 grams ( c + tbsp) of water, and mix well to incorporate. Refrigerate for up to 9 days.
  3. If you’re going away for more than 9 days, think of your starter as you would a pet. It’s a living thing that must be fed and watered. Get a friend to feed it according to the 3-day feeding schedule.